By Amber Noel
A Reading from Revelation 2:8-17
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:
13 “I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling-block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Isn’t it striking? Seven congregations receive personal correspondence from the Lord Jesus. How would it feel for your congregation or denomination to receive one of these letters? What would it say? Of course, when Jesus addressed his seven beloveds, the Holy Spirit knew he’d also be addressing us. (May he give us ears!)
So another thing that is striking is that these letters — truth-revealing, personal, painfully specific — mention certain individuals (not by name — which is surely an act of grace, as much trouble as they’re in), but are addressed to communities. “There are some among you” who are really going off-track. “Repent then,” he says, to all of them, so that those in the community currently in the wrong do not receive a harder, more direct divine correction.
Just as sin affects a community, so does repentance, it seems. We are one another’s responsibility. Of course, it’s sticky business. When we can humbly correct others, especially when faith or witness are at stake, we should, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And when we can’t, we are still addressed, communally, to press on living in a way that does not make my faith or witness, or my neighbor’s, to stumble.
We might think of Lent coming up. Who knows but that my repentance or yours this year may provide some spiritual grace for someone who is not yet repentant in some area of their life? Or that someone else’s prayers might do the same for us? We are not called to close our eyes and ears to what is going on in our churches, but we are directed to pray for the Church:
Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where it is in any thing amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it. Amen.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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Diocese of Accra (Ghana, West Africa)
Diocese of Texas